Mnemonics is the art and science of memory improvement using various systems or devices. Mental image based mnemonics focuses on creating mental images to store and retrieve information. Imagination is a powerful tool, and the individual who studies and practices mnemonics can perform seemingly superhuman feats of information recall. Many have dabbled in mnemonics and have walked away unsatisfied because they have not taken the time to build a solid foundation in this art.
Most, if not all, academic fields require a foundation to be laid before more vigorous levels can be approached and then mastered. This is also true with mental image based mnemonics. Many great memory improvement teachers make the mistake of introducing their students to advanced topics before their students are ready. And these students benefit very little from the study of mnemonics because they do not have a solid foundation. Before we talk about first steps, we are going to take a brief look at the heart of this system.
Image based mnemonics has a few levels and many different applications, but the heart of the system is the ability to visualize information; information is converted into mental pictures. Therefore, the first thing that the student of mnemonics must learn, or practice, is how to convert words and concepts into mental images. Images are the base and natural language of the mind; most people do not visualize words during the learning or memorization process. The beginning student of mnemonics should take at least a week and practice for 10 to 15 minutes a day just forming mental pictures from words.
How are words converted into mental images? When addressing this principle, we must consider words to come in 3 basic categories. Words can be tangible, intangible, or imperceptible. Tangible words are words that instantly form a mental picture, or they can be easily visualized based on the word itself. Intangible words can only be visualized by substituting a “sound alike” word in its place or in the place of part of the word. And imperceptible words cannot really be visualized at all, a mental image must be chosen that “represents” this type of word. Tangible words are easy to visualize.
Tangible words pretty much automatically form a mental image. These are words that represent tangible things. The following words are examples of tangible words: apple, horse, house, water, glass, farm, cellphone, cat, and jar. These types of words are very easy to visualize, unlike intangible words.
The following is an example of intangible words: subset, proclaim, confess, spokesman, earn, and refer. These words do not automatically form a mental picture; they must be mentally manipulated to form a mental picture.
Intangible words can be visualized if you follow a few basic steps. The goal is to turn intangible words, in whole or in part, into tangible words based on their pronunciation. Say the word out loud or to yourself. Does the word sound like something that you can mentally visualize? Take the word earn, it sounds like urn. The word earn can be visualized by picturing an urn. If the word in its entirety does not sound like anything that you can easily visualize, break the word into parts or syllables. The word “spokesman” can be broken up into two words, spokes and man. Imagining a man wearing a necklace made from bicycle tire spokes would remind you of the word spokesman. With intangible words, part of the word can also be visualized as an action. The word subset can be visualized by picturing a submarine setting itself on a beach. In some cases, you will not be able to create a mental picture from the entire intangible word, but you should be able to visualize enough of the word that the image reminds you of the word. The last category of words are words that are imperceptible.
Imperceptible words are very difficult to visualize. But this is a subjective category, some people will be able to visualize words that others cannot. Examples of imperceptible words are: Nebuchadnezzar, emptied, and fierce. Unless you have a friend named Nebuchadnezzar, this is a difficult word to visualize. But if you are familiar with his account in the book of Daniel, you could picture a king eating grass in a field. Visualizing a vase full of water being poured on the ground could remind you of the word emptied. For the word fierce, you could visualize a large lion roaring and ready to pounce. Your mind will be able to form an association between your mental image and the actual word. There are a few things to consider when forming mental images.
Mental images do not only involve a static picture. Mental images should be as dynamic and lively as possible. If possible, they should include all 5 senses: taste touch, smell, hearing, and sight. Mental images should be exaggerated and larger than life. And a touch of the bizarre does not hurt. The more silly or dramatic an image is the more memorable it will be. Remember that action is also important; a mental image’s action could also represent a part of the word or concept that you are associating it with.
For 1 or 2 weeks, select a random list of words. Take your time and attempt to visualize each word. You should spend 10 to 15 minutes on this exercise. Start out with simple words of no more than 3 or 4 syllables. Do not worry about connecting the words together at this point. This exercise is simply to help you to learn to form mental pictures of words. This is a crucial step in mental image based mnemonics.